Thursday, 31 July 2008

Let's Get This Out Of The Way

Thought I’d take time out of shouting at the television (they’re showing “World’s Deadliest Sea Creatures”; and they’ve got crocodiles! Crocodiles aren’t fucking sea creatures! I am not a crank!) to wish C a happy birthday. Not that it is his birthday, but since both of us will be away from out glowing boxes and letter pads when the day of mystery actually comes, now is as good a time as any.

We thus revel in the increased cadaverousness of the mighty C with the following "video" of Marcus Brigstocke beating the crap out of idiots. Enjoy.

Ooh! They’re onto the sharks now. That’s more like it. They could show a bit more imagination, though. What about an enraged narwhal? Or a school of guppies on PCP? Or even an octopus with its tentacles surgically replaced with sea-snakes?

ARRGH, now they’ve started misusing the laws of conditional probability as well. Seriously, I’m pretty angry right now.

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #2: Slim

I mentioned in my article on Professor X that studying his biography for the purposes of writing a piece on him had altered my opinion somewhat. The same is true, at least to an extent, with Scott Summers. With Xavier, my revelation centered on how much less noble and worthy a character he was than the Kool-Aid-drinking devotion of his charges would suggest. With Cyclops, I began to realise that perhaps, just perhaps, the man is a little less insufferably dull than I had previously assumed.

One of the odd things about those first few issues of Uncanny X-Men that represented my initial foray into the world of comics is that I re-read them so many times I can not only draw them from memory, but I can recall large tracts of the letters pages as well. I mention this because my first real experience of Cyclops came, not from seeing him in action (at the time he was more prominent in X-Men), but with a pair of bickering letters (in UXM 323 and 325, just to show how scary-yet-unmarketable my recall powers are) arguing over the exact nature of the eldest Summers brother. The first praised him as the archetypal hero, the square-jawed stiff-lipped bastion of virtue standing as an intractable bulwark against evil. The second lambasted him as chronically uninteresting, so dedicated to doing what was right that there was never real doubt as to his actions, and thus no interest to them, either [1]. What drama is there in watching Cyclops get tempted by, say, an affair with Psylocke, when you know his innate morality and heroism will mean he will never succumb?

I have to admit that for a long while that was exactly how I saw Cyclops too. Here is a character, I thought, to whom interesting things happen, (losing a child to a techno-organic virus and the future, being stalked by an insane Victorian geneticist, having your girlfriend die and turn out to be alive and go mad and die and be revealed to be fake [2]) but whose reactions to those events are completely without interest. Each time our most archetypal of heroically heroic heroes just clenches his jaw a little lighter and walks off into the sunset.

It wasn't until I good few years later, when I finally got round to reading the Age of Apocalypse storyline (which I had missed the end of by all of two months originally), that my opinion began to shift a little. In this reality, Xavier was murdered before he ever began to assemble the X-Men, allowing Apocalypse to make his bid for global domination comparatively uncontested. One of his most faithful lieutenants in his initial war to conquer North America was one Scott Summers. This time Cyclops had devoted his life, not to the service of Charles Xavier, but to Sinister (at that time one of Apocalypse's Horsemen). Despite the mounting evidence of the atrocities committed by Apocalypse against the humans that stood against him, and by both Sinister and Dark Beast during their experiments on those unfortunate mutants trapped in "the pens", he doggedly follows the orders Sinister gives him (the most he bothers to do to help those less fortunate, at least until Sinister leaves, is to facilitate the escape of the occasional prisoner).

That was the moment when I finally understood Cyclops. The all-consuming premise in Scott Summer's life isn't heroism, it's loyalty. And loyalty, of course, is only as virtuous as that which you are loyal to.

Scott's desire, or perhaps even need, to follow another has been clear since his late childhood. Almost immediately after running away from the strange, nightmarish Omaha orphanage where Scott had been raised (a location, in fact, run by Sinister, in an effort to keep tabs on this potentially massively powerful mutant), Scott hooks up with the mutant criminal Jack O' Diamonds, and agrees to help him break into a nuclear facility. Although Scott attempts to minimise the body count in the resulting break-in attempt, the speed with which he acquiesces to Jack (and then to Xavier once he arrives to save the teenage mutant) reveals a deep desire to find someone to believe in, and to follow. At one point in The West Wing, President Bartlett explains the difference between himself and Josh: "I want to be the guy, you want to be the guy the guy relies on". Scott has the same problem. Obviously that doesn't imply that he cannot become authoritative, any more than Josh couldn't, but taking charge is in itself just a means to the end of obeying some other, greater power or cause.

It would perhaps be too pat to suggest that this situation has arisen due to Scott's parent-less childhood, or even that Sinister's manipulations at the orphanage might have deliberately left Scott liable to seek reassurance from authority. Nevertheless, as I mentioned a few days ago, the father-son dynamic between Charles and Scott was obvious from the very beginning, and a dark reflection of that could be seen between Scott and Sinister in the Age of Apocalypse. However, it is not the cause of this dedication that is of real interest, so much as its effects.

Professor X once admits that he chose Cyclops as a code-name only partly because of Summers' coruscating eye-beams. The other reason was the younger man's apparent total singularity of vision. In fact, the link between his mutant power and his dedication has always been strong. On one level, of course, the mere necessity of ensuring his eyes are always either closed or protected by ruby quartz lenses instills an innate sense of responsibility and discipline (though note how differently he deals with that constant burden compared to, for example, Rogue). On another, Cyclops has a number of times refused chances at happiness (in his early years often either with Jean Grey or other women) on the grounds that his powers make romance or any other prolonged exposure to others too great a risk. Not only do his eye-blasts create discipline, they allow him to pretend his devotion to duty is the only course open to him. It's not until the aftermath of his possession by Apocalypse that he is sufficiently shaken to question that formulation (more on this later). This immediately begs the question: why would anyone, however subconsciously, deliberately shackle themselves to duty without any hope of release?

There are two possible answers to this question. The first, and least charitable, is that Cyclops is just a total fucking tool. This admittedly extreme analysis does have some hard evidence behind it. Going back to the Age of Apocalypse one final time, Cyclops response when Sinister tells him he is leaving Factor-X is "If it's something I've done...?" If it's something he's done? How much more egotistical can anyone get? Scott Summers is, and always has been, ludicrously full of himself. Every time Xavier snaps at someone, or there's a problem somewhere in the team, Cyclops is always the first to insist that he must be the one to blame. It's that very specific flavour of egomania that you get when you blend it with the paranoid belief that everything must be your fault. Essentially Summers has a borderline martyr complex and a borderline messiah complex. In fairness to him, he puts a impressive amount of effort into ensuring that he lives up to his overinflated opinion of himself, but then given he's convinced all slip-ups are his responsibility, it's hardly surprising so much work goes into avoiding them.

And perhaps even his dedication to excellence isn't quite as laudable as it may seem. The other possibility I mentioned is simply that Scott is absolutely terrified of ending up on either side of disappointment. By tying himself to duty, by constantly putting his own needs aside for the good of the dream, he can both avoid Professor X becoming disappointed in him (and thus Xavier questioning his belief in Scott), and he can ensure that he's never in a position to be let down by anyone else. It was difficult enough to drag him into the relationship with Jean Grey, especially considering how devoted he clearly was to her [3]. Attempts at other romances when Jean was thought dead were just as fraught; the only woman really to break through was Madelyne Prior, who looked exactly like Jean and found herself abandoned when her look-alike was found in Jamaica Bay [4]. Again, look how Scott thinks of his powers. They're useful enough to guarantee he can live up to his duties in his desire for a proud father-figure to tell him how great he is, and they're dangerous enough to mean he can shun any situation he is afraid of by pretending that his condition is the problem. Cyclops apes the behaviour pattern he sees in Xavier, refusing to deal with or even recognise the emotions swirling round his head. This might not lead to the planet-frying temper tantrums of his mentor, but this repression still takes its toll, gradually making him more insular, more cold, and more contained. He admits to Storm after the first "death" of Jean Grey that he feels nothing at the loss, and later suggests this was a deliberate tactic to prevent him going insane with grief.

In the light of all this, having Apocalypse co-opt his body might actually have had some positive effect (at quite some cost, of course), allowing as it did an outpouring of negative emotion. The Scott Summers that emerged from the control of En Sabah Nur was no more obviously warm than before, but the experience had taught him that his previous attempts to wall himself off with duty and devotion was foolish and dangerous. The resulting problems with his marriage and psychic dalliance with Emma Frost was the inevitable result of a man determined to start pursuing his desires instead of performing a function. The way he went about that was hardly worthy of praise, but the intent itself represented a step forward [5], as to did his decision to start up a real relationship with Emma after Jean died again (in fact, whilst many of his colleagues were sickened that the relationship began so soon after Jean had passed on, in an odd way Scott is to be commended for not wasting another few months with needless tortured staring into the middle distance).

So, like I said, Cyclops isn't quite as dull as he always seemed. His stoicism and loyalty may have made him very predictable for much of the time we have known him, but the strange psychological twists and turns it has taken him to get so dependable are worthy of some consideration, especially now that Scott is making a conscious effort to overcome them.

Next time: Iceman reminds us that it's never easy growing up, especially in comic books and over a forty year period.

[1] The letter also made an interesting analogy: Cyclops is to Gambit as Luke Skywalker is to Han Solo. In each case the do-gooding incorruptible white-hat is far, far less interesting than the wise-cracking rogue who is dragged into the fight unwillingly, and might give up or even switch sides if they ever see the benefit. Personally I really like this comparison, although I do think it might be a bit unfair on Skywalker. Mind you, both he and Summers both have fathers that are a dozen times more awesome than their sons.

[2] And then the real one show up again only to die and be reborn and die again and be reborn again (I think that's where we're up to.)

[3] It's worth noting that an argument over how to deal with Jean/the Phoenix was the one of the only times Cyclops deliberately went against Xavier's wishes (at least until the whole Vulcan/Krakoa debacle came to light). It's also worth noting that eventually the relationship between Scott and Jean seemed to become one more duty for Scott to perform.

[4] With their child, no less. Scott apparently at least partially shares Xavier's problem of biting off more responsibilities than he can chew, although in fairness thinking one's duty has ended due to exceptionally violent death is a pretty good excuse.

[5] Ironically, of course, this new commitment to thinking beyond the next mission almost led to Sublime conquering the world in the mid twenty-second century, but then no plan of self-improvement is entirely flawless.

Today On The WTF-Files

This, I think, is testament to the ingenuity of the human imagination: Croissant in a Can.

Thanks to Danny for pointing this out to me.

Monday, 28 July 2008

So Cute; So Wrong

With the stated aim of making me break down and weep over the crap people are prepared to publish in academic papers, C just sent me a copy of the highly-educational 2003 paper "Pressures produced when penguins pooh—calculations on avian defecation". The whole paper is worth reading; it's hilarious, but in particular I wanted to share the awesomeness of Figure 1.

SpaceSquid vs. The X-Men #1: Baldie

Since Uncanny X-Men has finally hit the big 500, I thought it was an opportune moment to start an irregular series of articles looking at the X-Men themselves, in chronological order. Obviously this means starting with their creator, Charles Francis Xavier.

(Note that I'm a bit behind the curve at the minute, having only read as far as August 2007. So if anyone happens to know that Xavier has currently become a space-crab or a transvestite or something, then keep it to your damn selves, alright?)

One of the strangest things that struck me whilst I was thinking about how to write an article on the founder of the X-Men is just how much I dislike the man in question. To many fans of the comic (probably almost all of them, in fact) Xavier's dream represents the perfect ideal of human society. Surely, irrespective of the fact that super-powered mutants are fictional, that dream is something to champion, and to respect, however far from fruition it may seem.

The problem, of course, is that one should never confuse the dream with the dreamer.

Well, that's our problem, anyhow. Xavier's problem is many-faceted, though likely it all stems from more or less the same place, namely that it is a terrible mistake to confuse dedication with intractability.

In order to understand Xavier, you need to consider his childhood. As a boy his father died in an accidental nuclear detonation. His mother Sharon then began a relationship with his father's former lab partner Kurt Marko, who to all appearances was interested only in the wealth of Charles' family. Both he and his unruly teenage son Cain moved in to Xavier mansion in Westchester. This new relationship quickly turned sour, driving Sharon into alcoholism, which may have caused, or at least contributed, to her death. At this point, with his powers either weak or not yet in existence, there was nothing Xavier could do but watch.

Soon, though, he began to realise he could not only read the minds of others, but control them as well. Given that, one would assume Charles could easily have protected himself once Kurt crossed the line into the full-blown physical abuse of his charges, but he never did. Later in life he confessed to his step-brother that this was due to the feelings of guilt he had suffered at the time for knowing that Kurt preferred him to Cain. That may well be true, up to a point, but there is another possibility, namely that even at that young age Charles had fallen into a rigid pattern of behaviour that has trapped him his whole life, as surely as his wheelchair has.

The issue with Xavier is that, whilst he is many things, and capable of being many more, the most obvious analogy that comes to mind when considering him is that of a perpetually ticking bomb. Or perhaps a geyser, since a bomb, generally speaking, will only go off once, and Xavier's eruptions are a recurring, though not common, occurrence. It might well be better for everyone concerned if they were common, of course, since that might make things safer on everyone else, but I'm beginning to get ahead of myself. Xavier is not yet born.

The alien Shi'ar believe that every person has what they call a Mummudrai, an exact spiritual opposite. Xavier's misfortune was for his Mummadrai to be his twin sister, Cassandra, a creature capable of radiating of such unbelievable evil that Xavier attempted to strangle her whilst they still shared a womb. This led to Cassandra being apparently stillborn, though this later turned out to be untrue. This was his first eruption. Without the layers of philosophy and stoicism and empathy that Xavier constantly wraps around himself, he gave in to his basest instinct, kill to protect.

By the time of his beatings at the hands of Kurt Marko, things had changed. Xavier had already begun to realise that having power does not automatically grant the right to use it. Spiderman's line about great responsibility applies even more to Professor X than the Wall-Crawler himself; since it is far easier to decide under what circumstances one should swing a fist or shoot a web than it is to know when it's OK to fool around with another person's brain. Realising this, Charles chose not to lift a finger to help himself against his step-father, but more crucially, he allowed Cain to suffer as well. His justifications now in place (justifications that may in fact be have been direct counters to the failings of his step-father), Charles took the moral high ground.

By the time the X-Men had formed, of course, Xavier was far happier about fiddling around in the synapses of others. Not just super-villains, either, Hank McCoy almost quits the X-Men in disgust the day he joins when he discovers Xavier has wiped him from the memory of several other people, in order to keep his identity a secret. More than one villain (including Cain in his new form as The Juggernaut) has their memory wiped to prevent discovery. All of this is done in the name of protecting the X-Men (Hank himself would be likely to receive this treatment had he carried through on his threat to leave [1]). The most generous reading of this change is that Xavier will act to protect his charges but not his step-brother because the X-Men are his responsibility [2]. When all else fails, Charles steps in and does what has to be done.

In other circumstances, that might well be admirable. In this specific case, there are two problems with Charles' methods. The first is that "when all else fails" is a somewhat nebulous concept: how many must fall on the field before Xavier deigns to intervene. On several occasions X-Men could most certainly have died while Xavier weighed up the value in acting (Wolverine's treatment at the hands of Magneto during Fatal Attractions is one example, another is Jean Grey's death at the hands of "Xorn"/"Magneto"/whomever). The second issue is that the nature of Xavier's powers means that any action he can take is a violation. There are no half measures, he either roots around in your brain, or he just leaves you be as you pummel his precious students into the ground.

This second problem lies at the heart of what makes Xavier who he is. Every direct action he takes seems to either slide him that little bit closer to damnation, or cost him catastrophically in some other way. Doing his duty by accepting the draft into the Korean War (in which he excelled at search and rescue, the first hint of his dedication to the cause which would eventually dominate his life) cost him the love of his life, Moira Kinross (later McTaggert). Defeating the Shadow King was a temporary victory at best, and attempting to foil Lucifer's plans cost him the use of his legs. Not long afterwards, his brief (and self-aborted) attempt to mentally compel Amelia Voight to stay with him as he formed the X-Men led to her hating him for years, and endless bitter self-recrimination on his part.

Faced with these failures and moral grey areas, it is hardly surprising that Charles retreated into a strategy of inactivity wherever possible. By that I don't just mean in the direct use of his telepathy against others, it eventually seemed to permeate every aspect of his existence. Doubtless his shattered legs played a part here too, being unable to respond physically already forced him to accept any number of limitations upon his life. The added voluntary restrictions upon his mental powers reduced him to the role he presumably found himself best suited to in any case, that of guide and teacher (again, it's hardly surprising that Xavier spent the war rescuing allies rather than fighting enemies). Even in this role, however, Xavier's unwillingness to take action caused problems. Whilst his dream was always clear, his hopes for the conduct of his X-Men never in doubt, Xavier never actually particularly punished his students for stepping out of line. An abrasive lecture was the worst they were liable to face, which may have been enough for his original set of five teenagers, but hardly likely to sway the older and more headstrong later additions to the team. Essentially, Xavier was all carrot; no stick. On top of this, the X-Men found themselves more and more on the defensive, reacting to external threats rather than taking action themselves, a state of affairs that exists until Bishop arrives from the future (Archangel suggests that it took a vision of eighty years in the future for Xavier to realise his vision had to be actively fought for, and not just simply defended).

This lack of flexibility has cost Xavier more than once. On several occasions it has led to confrontations over his leadership style as various X-Men (often Cyclops) attempt to persuade him that the world has changed, and that they must change with it. Perhaps fearing that to change their reality would lead to them changing his dream, though, Xavier resists change at every turn. He carries this through to his personal life, desperately trying to resist becoming too close to any one given person (most obviously Jean Grey), even though he often seems a father figure to some of his students (Cyclops especially, Summers status as an orphan and Charles' loss of his own father creating exactly the right sort of setting for such a relationship). Even when he finally does allow someone in, Lilandra for example, they are ultimately pushed away in favour of his duty.

In truth, though, there is reason to question whether or not Xavier really understands the nature of "duty" at all. His commitment means that he is willing to step up to any role the universe requires him to take, but that is only half the battle. The other part requires you turn down those roles that conflict with your current duties. Xavier abandons the X-Men to help his wife save her kingdom, only to abandon her in turn once the war begins to turn in her favour. He leaves the X-Men to help the mutant Skrulls of Cadre K, only to cut them loose the moment he senses his X-Men once more require his aid. Rather than change tactics, he simply changes roles, perhaps hoping that by hopping from one battle to another, he need never face his failures in the conflicts before. Even if that were more than a forlorn hope, of course, it hardly matters, his heart lies with Earth and the X-Men, which makes his constant forays into other conflicts all the more objectionable.

So, refusing to change, refusing to open up [3], unable to see a need for an authoritarian role without immediately attempting to fill it, Charles spends his entire life drowning by degrees. Shattered legs and questionable abilities and fear of self-analysis combine to shut out any hope of outlet. Xavier becomes a pressure-cooker, doomed to explode, recharge, and explode. At one point his errant dark thoughts gained sentience and terrorise the Microverse. Shutting down Magneto's brain is one perfect example (and again, it took the near-death of Wolverine to spur him into doing it), an action that then led to him losing control to his dark side again several years later and almost exterminating the human race entirely as Onslaught a few years later. His guilt over this immediately led to him allowing himself to be put in custody, and for him to deliberately avoid the restoration of his powers, lost in the wake of the Onslaught crisis. In fact, each time he erupts, he takes responsibility, but not action to stop it happening again. Whilst his despair occasionally forces him to question his dream, or even temporarily abandon it, it never occurs to him that methodology can change whilst intent remains constant. That whilst the ends do not always justify the means, one can alter one without automatically affecting the other.

Without grasping this, Xavier dooms himself to repeat the same cycle. Following the funeral of what was believed to be Magneto after his violent attack upon New York, Polaris faced Xavier with the possibility that perhaps he and Magneto might not be so different after all. She proves her point by goading Charles into a righteous fury over his total belief that his way is the right one. Wolverine immediately acknowledges Polaris' success in demonstrating her argument, but what no-one seems to notice is just how easy it was to wind Xavier up into a rage. The geyser erupts again, only for glacial composure to return moments later, along with yet another commitment to stay the course and follow his dream unaltered. The more things change, the more he stays the same. The graver the situation, the greater the denial and the repression, the more dangerous the inevitable eruption: a vicious cycle that has on occasion likely done more damage than Magneto could ever hope to achieve (as Xavier himself acknowledges after the hideously costly defeat of Onslaught)

On the other hand, there are some obvious distinctions between Magneto and Xavier, albeit not necessarily in the way that Charles might like. Whilst their goals are obviously very different, what is more interesting is their variations, not just in approach, but in the consistency of those goals. Whilst Xavier is constant in his desire to see humans and mutants live together peacefully, Magneto's desire to see mutants safe from harm leads to plan as disparate as annihilating humanity, dominating them, or even escaping them entirely by populating island nations or orbital facilities. Whilst Magneto's specific interpretation of his own vision may vary from year to year, he is always resolute in taking any necessary action to achieve it. In short, it is his ends that vary, the means then just taking shape around it, rather than Xavier insisting that both ends and means remain static if at all possible (or sometimes even if it isn't). Magneto is fluidity where Xavier is rigidity and, just like their respective dreams, reality is almost certainly somewhere in between.

In conclusion, then, Charles Xavier's faith in his (unquestionably laudable) dream is so frightening, so all-consuming, so wrapped up in the mistakes and trials of his childhood and beyond, that he cannot bear to change direction even slightly, in case in doing so he finds himself walking toward a different goal. When he does alter his trajectory, it is either voluntary and either temporary and/or ultimately self-defeating, or it is forced on him by the limits of his own humanity, at which point the cost is frequently devastating. In short, until Professor X learns to be comfortable with small, conscious alterations to his life, he will forever be at the mercy of the violent, shattering changes forced upon him by the most powerful subconscious mind on the planet.

Next time: why Cyclops isn't necessarily as boring as you think he is, though only by a bit.

Update: thanks to Jamie for pointing out the phantom asterisks. I can't remember what I wanted to say there, so I've removed them.

[1] The revelations regarding Darwin and Vulcan also demonstrated that Xavier is prepared to wipe the memories of his X-Men if he thinks the greater good will be served. On this occasion, of course, like with so many others, it ended in disaster.

[2] There is a less charitable possibility that Charles didn't really consider his bad-tempered bully of a step-brother worthy of salvation-by-mindfuck. In fairness, even this line of argument has to deal with the fact that Cain was, even as a teenager, strong enough to overcome his father, had he not allowed himself to be beaten out of self-loathing.

[3] The man spends each Christmas Eve with the photos of dead X-Men, for God's sake. That's just not right.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Sixty Second Film Corner

The Dark Knight is too long, Batman is too growly, and the Joker is too awesome.

Note how I have managed to describe all this in less than two and a half fucking hours.

Oh, while we're on the subject, WALL-E is indescribably awesome until the humans show up forty minutes in, then spends the rest of its running time coasting along at a level that can only be described as very, very good.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

So I Lied

Just one more, since Ibb has been complaining that it's been a while since I mentioned her on this here blog:Situation redressed, y'all.

Prevarication Tools

Why have I only just discovered this site?

I'm going to have a proper play with it later, since I can easily see it swallowing up a few hours. I thought I'd put my first effort up, though, since it seems so totally appropriate to this blog.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

In Slow-Motion It Looks A Lot Like Being Tickled

Well, this all stinks more than just a little.

Louisiana police taser man to death.

There are three things that strike me here. The first, as they point out over at Hullabaloo, is this:

Pikes was already handcuffed and on the ground when first hit with the Taser,
after the 247-pound suspect was slow to follow police orders to get up.
The guy wasn't coming at them with a knife, or even trying to get the Hell out of dodge. He just wasn't getting off the floor fast enough. You don't get to use a taser as a motivator just because it's really not likely to kill someone. I doubt he would have died if they'd kicked him in the testicles, but you'd have a hard time convincing me that that's warranted behaviour when you want someone to put a bit more effort into standing up. Having already been cuffed, at which point you have to figure the point at which he's going to kick off is liable to be passed.

The second aspect to this that bugs me is the response from the one of the police lieutenants:

At some point, something happened with his body that caused him to go into
cardiac arrest or whatever.
"Or whatever"? I think if there's any time at which those two words should not end a sentence it's when you're talking about the guy your men have just killed for no good reason. Or is this just how things are done in Winnfield? "Sorry to disturb you, ma'am, it's just that your husband's fallen into the bijou and mauled to death by an alligator or whatever."

And I've saved the most crazy part for last: the cop hit him with his magic electro-wand nine times. Not that that matters, since he "stopped twitching after seven". What the fuck was he doing for shots one through six? What the hell was so scary about a handcuffed man already on the floor? For that matter, when the eighth shot revealed that the suspect was no longer even responding to being electrocuted, then what are you doing going for shot number nine?

I really don't get what's so hard for the police to understand, here. Tasers are an alternative to deadly force. They are not an alternative to a warning, or to waiting for someone to stand up, or as a check to see if the last eight taser shots did, in fact, do for someone.

Also To Be Filed Under Shit What Is Out Of Hand

Take a look at this little beauty. You know things are bad when a country has to release a Z$250 000 000 banknote.

Of course in the case of Zimbabwe's economy "bad" left the station quite some time ago. Back in March I described it as "buggered". Frankly, I was low-balling it; and that was back in those halcyon days when the inflation rate could still be measured in a puny six digits. Since then things have gotten worse. The note above was issued in May, but with inflation rates at 2.2 million percent (officially anyway, it's liable to actually be much higher), that sort of low numbered shit ain't going to cut it.

Thus the unveiling of the 100 billion dollar note.

Which, apparently, isn't enough.

"Nowadays, for my expenses a day, I need about Z$500 billion," one resident said.

"So Z$100 billion can't do anything because for me to go home I need Z$250 billion, so this [note] is worthless."

Z$250 000 000 000 to go home? I don't exactly know what he's referring to, but I sure as hell hope he doesn't mean his bus fare.

Anyone else remember those Alas Smith and Jones sketches in some hyper-inflation-riddled Banana Republic? Cabbies with meters a metre long to fit in all the extra digits? Darts players scoring one hundred and eighty million million million million million million? That shit is happening now (well, not the darts bit); inflation has reached such ludicrous proportions that the numbers involved are causing data handling issues. It's pretty much a cluster-fuck. Worse, even. There needs to be a phrase for the situation in which you realise you're looking back at the cluster-fucks you've been previously involved in with tearful nostalgia. Fuckpocalypse?

Alternatively, for the quick version, you could just look here.

This Is Getting Out Of Hand

Two birthdays this Wednesday. Since I can't remember which of the two of them was born first, I shall do this in order of seniority as Friends of SpaceSquid.

First up, then, a birthday wish for Cocklick, taking the form of this nostalgic slice of our shared past.

Man, I'd forgotten how much I hate this film. The robots are breathing into trumpets, for God's sake. What use would a race of sentient transforming machines have for a fucking brass section?


Up second; some special day cheer for Jamie, condensed into a clip of two of his favourite characters on one of his favourite shows discussing the topic of birthdays (see how my birthday messages have become metatextual).

Only two more years and we get to have this conversation, a fact which is disturbing on a multitude of levels (not the least of them being how much I want to be Garak).

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Birthday Wishes

A's birthday today, to be celebrated by the following video. A shiny penny for anyone who can tell me which nineties BBC show featured this as the theme tune.

Monday, 21 July 2008

A Disturbing Trend

4.9.06: Steve Irwin killed by stingray.

12.9.06: Irwin fans begin revenge attacks against the "normally-harmless" rays.

Last month:

Looks like we may have bitten off more than we can chew, here. If this becomes a full-scale war, we may have to rely on the tamarin-controlled death-robots to bail us out...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

100 Posts Fiesta!

Hurrah! 100 posts in and I have neither been shut down by "The Man", nor have I become distracted by shiny objects and left this blog to die a slow death (one third of blogs fail within their first year, or am I thinking of small businesses?).

Whilst I don't really have anything particularly profound to say today (even by my standards), I thought I'd make use of the bullet point button I love so much in order to get through a few things.

  • My computer is now fixed, as long as the word "fixed" doesn't imply the ability to access my CD drive or persuade my speakers to make any sound whatsoever;

  • I can now make good on my promise to put up something in honour of Kim's birthday. My first inclination was just to type "German ninjas" into youtube (which was quite the eye-opener in itself), but I eventually decided to ignore videos in favour of the following picture of a baby penguin, since it's pretty much the only thing known to man that can stop Kim mid-rampage and force her to start cooing; [1]

  • I didn't necessarily think a great deal of the New Yorker cover that started all the whining, but this should pretty much clear up why some of the arguments as to why it didn't qualify as satire were more than a little odd;

  • Whilst laughing at death of marsupials isn't cool, I have to admit being more than a little amused to learn of a kangaroo getting mauled by a shark. That must have been one confused fucking fish. Big G suggested that the witness may have murdered the kangaroo himself and chosen the shark as a patsy, but I'm sure there must be more plausible animals to blame it on than that. A pack of wild dingos, for example, or possibly a troop of enraged wombats. I also like the quote "It wasn't a huge shark", which I guess is implying that the kangaroo was a pussy for getting pwned;

  • While we're on the subject of animals, this article passed me by the first time around back in January. I really think the NYT needs some help with their headlines, since this piece should obviously have been called "Scientists Allow Monkeys To Control Giant Fucking Robot". When are those educated elitist liberals going to learn? If a monkey can force a robot to walk, it can force a robot to crush the head of its puny human overlord. That might be what the robot wanted in the first place, anyway, and I for one don't want to leave the security of a species in the hands of a bunch of lobotomised spider monkeys. Seriously, what next? "Researchers demonstrate macaques can use brain-waves to fire machine guns?". This is exactly how planet of the apes started, and since Charlton Heston is dead we probably can't go crying to him when the lower primates decide it's their time for a bite of the cherry [2]. Some would quite rightly label this fiasco as the beginning of the end for human civilisation. I, on the other hand, choose to believe that the universe handed me a tremendously messed-up birthday present, and forgot to mention it.

Well, that should do for now. Tune in in another four months as this blog hits 200 posts, by which time I plan to have either cured cancer, or found a new way to insert the work "fuck" into an otherwise ordinary every-day sentence.

[1] Well, her own children might do the job, but we'll have to wait a while before that hypothesis can be confirmed. Or will we?

[2] On the other hand, watching monkey-controlled killer robots battle the zombified remains of Charlton Heston clutching a rifle would almost make the whole thing worth it. I may develop that into a screenplay once I'm done with Werewolf Ninjas vs Ghost Pirates and it's sequel, Werewolf Ninjas vs Ghost Pirates vs Nazis on Velociraptors.

Friday, 18 July 2008

More Fuel For The Hypocrisy Fire

I notice that once again, to no-one's surprise, the free speech defence that I've shot down before has come crawling out of the woodwork.

Donation to same-sex marriage opponents draws boycott calls.

This is a slight wrinkle on the endlessly recycled fallacy that free speech is the right, not to say whatever one wishes, but to say whatever one wishes without fear of any negative consequence. Ricky Bobby's unique interpretation of the Geneva Convention notwithstanding, of course, this is a pretty idiotic argument, as I've said before.

It's patently ridiculous to argue that the paying money in the hopes of curtailing other peoples freedom is free speech, but calling for a boycott in opposition to those payments is a “bullying” tactic [1]. If the flow of money for political purposes is free speech, then the withholding of money for political purposes is also free speech. Frankly I'm not sure I subscribe to the former anyway, although I recognise that in this case the aim is to fund a signature drive to force a vote on the issue, rather than to bribe anyone into taking a given direction. Still, short of trying to put together a similar drive on the other side (which I'm not sure would even work, I'm not up on the methods used for amending the California constitution, and would certainly be hard for anyone who doesn't have $125,000 lying around the house for a rainy day), what options do opponents have but to remind these high-level donors that choices have consequences? No-one's talking about bombing the hotels, or roughing this guy up, or even suing him. They're just saying "This guy is a dick, don't give him money which may end up being used to constitutionally disenfranchise a group of citizens".

Nope. If this guy gets to do what he wants with his money, then so do his customers, and everyone else gets to pass comment on both if they want to. That's free speech.

[1] This is skipping over the fairly obvious point that there are a lot more people opposed to gay marriage (to varying degrees of strength) in California than there are gay people, which makes the former hoping to tell the latter that they cannot marry under the threat of legal consequence a lot closer to the definition of bullying that a bunch of people refusing to use your hotel does.

Update: I just realised that this was my ninety-ninth post. What can I do for the one hundredth, I wonder.


Oh, and my computer still isn't fixed.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

I'd Been Pretty Close To Picking Sharks

Seen recently at Lincoln Park Zoo.

This is exactly why I chose meerkats as my spiritual brothers (along with squid, obviously). You can't tame the meerkat: his spirit is beyond your reach.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

It Had To Happen

Since I'm currently sans computer back at the flat (the damn thing stopped working again on Thursday, and stopped working to such an alarming new degree on Sunday night that the mecha-vets seemed the only option), there hasn't really been much opportunity for blogging (this state of affairs being accentuated by hanging out with Senor Spielbergo when I really should have been in the office).

Needless to say, this recent loss of my internet privileges has left me bitter and angry. This was further accentuated yesterday morning when I discovered that the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth has been canceled this year, at least for maths, which means I don't get the £300 I was promised for teaching it. Since each year the money I make from that (which used to be £600, back before someone decided that maths isn't really something we want to encourage children to do) to subsidise my Summer holiday, it appears I am going to have to swim to Jersey and/or resort to cannibalism once I get to the Isles of Scilly (final decision to be made once I work out how far offshore Jersey is and whether Scillonians are well-known for tasting of smoky bacon).

I thus unveil a new label for this august blog: one dedicated entirely to the burning hate that tears around my blackened heart like a hurricane of bile. Specifically, we give props to the pro-wrestler Vin Gerard, who will (as I learned today from 4th Letter), for the bargain price of two dollars, sign a 8 by 10 (or h8 by 10, as he calls them) photograph of himself, addressed to you, with the exact reason he loathes you.

Society could learn a great deal from this noble man. It is my dream that one day everyone will carry cards that, rather than holding information on your business, will simply display a stream of invective against whomever they are supplied to.

In fact, I think I might make some up myself. Let SpaceSquid point the way toward a better tomorrow.

Update: Apologies to Kim for not putting a video up in honour of her birthday. I shall rectify this appalling state of affairs the instant my computer is fixed and I can access youtube once more.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Basically I'm Just Gloating

After eight months and 63,000 words I finally finished the first draft of my first novel last night (technically it's the second novel I've started, but the first one is still sitting around waiting for me to write Chapter 8). It's been hanging over my head for a while now, so it feels pretty damn awesome to have got it out of the way. It desperately needs another draft at some point, but that can wait. First I have a Cthulhu scenario to write. And a short story I only got halfway through back in September. And the other novel to go back to. And a video game article I'm re-jigging. And a script or two to think about. And...

Plus, obviously, a thesis.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

The Quality Of His Enemies

I found this in my inbox this morning. I really shouldn't wind people up over in the Youtube comments, fun though it is.

look just because i have a feeling and i dont waste the tme to use punctuation or spell doesnt mean i need education from the likes of you your just some little faggot from nowhereville thinking you can be all big and bad cause no one can see your fat ass get of the fucking office chair and do something useful i hate democrats because you are against war and for freedom you can only have freedom with war and im proud of serving my country so shut the fuck up you racist liberal baby killer

Any time I'm feeling down on myself, I can read this to remind me that it could be so, so much worse.

On the other hand, he does seem to have done scarily well at working out what kind of a person I am. Not only did I write the comment in an office, as he so correctly surmises, but just yesterday I did in fact kill a baby. In my defence, the baby was being kind of a dick. [1]

[1] This joke copyright of Penny Arcade.

Today On MotCC: An Old Friend Gets Even Older

T's birthday today, so let's all celebrate by watching a video of exactly the kind of hideous brat she won't have to deal with [1] once she switches schools. Twelve working days and you're done, kiddo.

[1] Well, not constantly, anyways.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Apparently I Can't Stop Scratching

It would seem that the 3000 words I wrote on Doctor Who yesterday aren't enough. I made very sure that I wrote that article before I returned to Lawrence Mile's Doctor Who blog, because I wanted to be sure that my opinion wasn't influenced by his.

Once I got there, however, I found a 25 step-guide on how to make the show better for Season 5 (or, as we purists call it, Season 30). Since I got bored at work today and wrote a long post on the SFX Forum about how much weight I thought should be given to the recommendations, I thought I might as well reproduce it here, with a little extra explanation, and with one or two of the more direct references to the forum-goers altered.

First: the list itself.

1. A companion who isn't from the early twenty-first century.
2. A companion who's played by a proper actress.
3. We don't necessarily need a single companion
4. No more affairs for the Doctor.
5. A less sexy, less athletic Doctor.
6. No spurious super-powers.
7. The Doctor shouldn't know everything.
8. The Doctor shouldn't be perfect.
9. The Doctor's presence should never, ever be the solution
10. No technobabble.
11. Absolutely no "magic wand" technology.
12. Please, in the name of God, less stories set on modern-day Earth.
13. No more alien invasions.
14. Stop wasting money on "big"
15. Less CGI monsters.
16. Stop making straight-to-video horror movies with all the horror taken out. …
17. We need writers who can write, not just directors who can direct.
18. [Miles] should obviously be hired as a writer

19. Make sure you hire the right "cult" comic-book author.
20. We need one - just one - proper historical story.
21. Historical stories that are actually about the era in question.
22. Monsters that fit the story.
23. Enough of the Daleks.
24. Say no to story arcs.
25. Less Confidential, more Totally.

Point 1 addresses one of those things that I'd like to see, and the show could certainly do something interesting with, but it's not really make-or-break stuff, it would just make for a nice change. Certainly the argument often put forward by RTD that we "have" to have someone from contemporary Earth otherwise we won't identify is, in fact, bullshit. There are millions of reasons why, just one is that if I can identify with a black female medical doctor from London in 2007 I can't see any reason why I can't identify with a white male mathematician from, say, another universe (as long as he wasn't Adric, obviously). Considering the sheer amount of effort (to varying degrees of success but certainly for the best of reasons) gone into making the show as diverse as is possible (aside from the fact that the closest we've got to disabled characters have been an insane scam artist and the creator of the Daleks) it seems odd that RTD is convinced we couldn't take someone seriously unless they come from the exact time period between Pokemon's star waning and the Spice Girls reforming.

But, like I said, it's not really going to be much of an issue either way.

2 strikes me as a little unfair, since I think Tate did very well as Donna. There is a point to be made, however, that the next companion shouldn't be somebody already very well known. Yes, Rose worked (or to be more accurate the fact that Rose was a hideous sniveling self-absorbed pathetic excuse for a person is in no way Billie Piper's fault), but the more you stuff the show with celebrities the harder it becomes to relate to it. Or it does for me, anyway. I've said before that I was really impressed by Catherine Tate this season, but the fact that she did well never stopped me from seeing her every Saturday and thinking "Look, it's Catherine Tate!" This was also an issue with Eccleston's brief run on the show, too, although since the man is an accomplished actor, as oppose to a serial camera-mugger, it didn't work out quite as badly (seriously, though, ask yourself when the last time was when you saw Eccleston in something and didn't have to spend at least a little while getting over the fact that it's just Chris Eccleston again. Heroes? Who? The Second Coming? 28 Days Later? If I had to pick, I guess it would probably be The Others).

3 is an extension of 1. Again, nice to see it, not too bothered about it, other than the fact that it's unlikely in the extreme that the Doctor will ever have a long-term male companion unless there's a woman in there too (in fact, it's worth noting that in the show's whole run, only Adric appeared in an entire story without a female companion either being with, leaving, or joining the TARDIS crew, and that was in The Keeper of Traken which introduced Nyssa who joined in the next story anyway). Obviously a male companion would be a nice change (yeah, there was Adam, but he was a douche, and Mickey was scarcely better; especially since both of them kept making eyes at Rose). Miles' point that this could lead to angle romantic without roping in the Doctor again is a good one, frankly I'd rather give all this hormonal raging a rest altogether, but at least this way I don't have to be constantly creeped out by an alien the crappy side of 1000 (whatever he tells people these days) staring at the arse of women not yet in their mid-twenties.

As for 4 through 7, I think Miles is entirely right about the problems the show has with its current portrayal of the Doctor, although some things need addressing more urgently than others. This love affair angle, as I've said, certainly needs to be dropped as soon as possible. We're back to this nonsense about "identifying". Well, maybe nonsense is too harsh a word, but the fact remains that we're talking about the adventures of a near-immortal alien, here. You don't want him completely aloof and inexplicable, obviously, but each time you drag him into what concerns us as a species, you run the risk of lessening him. This constant need to have him moping around is one of them. The guy destroyed his entire species to save the universe; he's committed genocide at least twice, he's dedicated his life (all those centuries of it) to fighting evil. He's the archetypal champion, albeit an arrogant and mercurial one, and to try and suggest that he still needs a good woman (a human woman, to boot, and a teenager) or he'll just be all mopey is a bit much. So, whilst I don't really care if he's sexy or not, if they do keep casting studs I wish they wouldn't try to work it into the stories all the damn time. As for 6 and 7, I agree completely that it somewhat takes the fun out of it when the Doctor automatically knows what's going on within moments of it happening. A friend told me once about how hard it was running Cthulhu with his current role-playing group since they had one guy there who had been playing it for years. Every time a monster would burst through from the beyond, this guy (often independently of his character, who like most PC's in Cthulhu hadn't seen a tenth of what his player had) would immediately recognise it, and form the counter-strategy. Often the gribbly wouldn't even have to show up. "Freak earthquake, you say? This sounds like the work of those demn Cthonians! Quickly! To the water-cannons!". Watching Who can often feel like that, especially since (as we'll get to later) the Doctor's greatest problems are increasingly caused not by having no idea what to do, but knowing what to do (or assuming he can work it out) and then getting to where he can do it. [1]

8 and 9, I think, are particularly vital. Miles makes the excellent point that when you write for the Doctor you can't just assume he's infallible and everything he does is thus objectively good and will get him worshiped by Ood or by Romans or by a bunch of colonists who turn out to be a week old. When you're trying to set up your hero as being only a little short of full-blown godhood (as the current iteration of the show seems to be), it means you have to be very careful about how you write him, as oppose to just having him spout any old guff and hoping that the fact it's the Doctor by itself (and, to be fair, hoping Tennant can carry it, which he often does) will make it work [2]. I also agree with Miles' take on Gridlock being nothing more than a race for the Doctor to get to the Face of Boe so he can immediately solve everything. He may be the Oncoming Storm, but we should see him struggle to succeed, not struggle to arrive. Tragically he doesn't go far enough and completely decry that particular episode as the absolute nadir of both Who and television in general that it was, but we can't have everything.

I'm on board with 10 and 11, too. We've already seen RTD paint himself into a corner with the sonic screwdriver, necessitating the sudden appearance of deadlock seals all over the place (including on robot helpers and tampered cars; why would the Sontarans go to the trouble of fitting deadlocks to all the ATMOS-enhanced vehicles, given humanity doesn't have sonic technology, and given that, as we found, car windows ain't all that hard to break). The new series has often flown closer to pure fantasy than I've been comfortable with. YMMV, of course, but since a lot of the time the more fantastical elements annoy not because they're fantastical per se but because they're papering over glaring implausibility makes it a reasonable gripe, I think.

On the other hand, I've never agreed with Miles on 24, and I still don't; the problems Who has had regarding story arcs have been in how they've been done, not that they were attempted. This years has worked pretty well, or at least it would have done if the "Someone will die" line we kept getting fed hadn't turned out to be bollocks again [3], and if somebody had bothered to point out that if you're going to write something like Turn Left you have to plan for it in advance and make sure you know what's coming (i.e. don't suddenly pretend the Titanic wasn't going to wipe out all life on Earth when it crashed [4] and don't forget that the stars won't go out until after the Earth gets dragged to the Medusa Cascade in order to power the reality bomb).

Much of the rest of the list that doesn't read as a fairly bitter request for a job, I really don't care about one way or another. 12 already seems to be going better these days (there have been several jaunts this year off-Earth), and I don't really care if they do any pure historicals or not (I do agree that they could probably afford to present the past a bit less like they're pitching it at celebrity gossip columnists, though). I'm also not too worried about letting Gaiman get his hands on the show for an episode, mainly because I rate his writing far, far higher than Miles does, although TV isn't Gaiman's best format.

And as for 18, well, I've never read anything by Miles so I can't comment on his level of delusion (though convention wisdom has it that it's pretty extreme). Of course, he could be the worst writer of science-fiction in the entire history of humanity and it wouldn't affect whether or not the other 24 points carry any weight.
[1] One or two people, incidentally, have argued that some of the above is an attempt to return to the Hartnell era (mainly, as far as I can see, because Miles has a tendency to use it as an example) which is pretty obviously a false dichotomy. It's the "Oh, you don't want Time Lord DNA to travel via lightning bolt; that means you must want Adric back" argument that surfaces every time you suggest the show might want to at least try to make some kind of narrative sense, even if we known that narrative is implausible (see my point about techno-babble later on).

[2] While we're on the subject of The Doctor's Daughter, how does "I never would" sit alongside tricking someone into being sucked into a black-hole? Or turning them into a scarecrow? Or knocking them off a spaceship? Or sucking all the Daleks into the void (presumably killing them) only to be shocked when your clone kills them all over again two years later? The Tenth Doctor seems to have a tremendously flexible code when it comes to deciding who lives, who dies, and who spends eternity trapped in mirrors. Which I wouldn't necessarily mind, if anyone ever called him on it. But he's the Doctor, he must always be right; even when he's being irritating, like he was to Harriet Jones in the Christmas Invasion. I thought it was a real shame the Daleks did for her last Saturday before she had time to tell him she told him so.

[3] I even thought when Caan mentioned "everlasting death" that this was a stupid thing to say. Isn't all death everlasting, I thought? Well not if it's just some nonsense crap about trying to equate it with amnesia, it ain't. Thus the line manages to be apparently tautological at the time, and complete bullshit misdirection later on.

[4] I said at the time that suddenly announcing the entire human race was in jeopardy, as oppose just the thousands of people on the ship, was a poorly-judged attempt to ramp up the tension for no real gain: I have labeled this RTD-MRI Syndrome after one of its most outrageous occurrences.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Latest Cthulhu Tally

Number of priceless arcane tomes burned unceremoniously in the back of a Model T: 1.
Number of investigators attacking a shoggoth with a double-barrelled shotgun: 1.
Number of investigators who survived attacking a shoggoth with a double-barrelled shotgun: 0.

Rest in peace, Morris Smithson. You may not have been the most reliable warrior in the fight against the supernatural, but you must surely have been amongst the most entertaining.

Hopefully This Is The Last Time I'll Have To Write This

Christ, this is irritating. My trusty PC has exploded again, forcing me to type this out on my battered and increasingly paint-stained laptop, which as some of you know is missing the "h" key, which makes typing "h" pretty hard. "Hard" was hard, too. Also "which". You get the idea.

Despite all these obstacles, however, I refuse to be silenced. Doctor Who must be berated, and it must be berated now. There was so much wrong with last night's drunken kebab of an episode that I hardly know where to start.

How about I get the good stuff out of the way first. That way I can prove my credentials as a non-troll (if you ever want to remember what being surrounded by idiots in a school playground is like, try telling on-line Who fans that their favourite show is a shade less than perfect [1]).


Well, setting up two items (the Osterhagen key and the warp star) as potential board-changers in the grand RTD "Holy shit I've written this into the mother of all corners" tradition, only for both to end up useless, was pretty neat. Or at least it would have been if this little nod to how crap the man is at resolving stories didn't make Martha completely useless (and what was the point of all that stuff with the German woman?) and then get cancelled out by having a console that can both disarm Daleks before remotely operate them, followed by a device that can miraculously blow them all up without difficulty. But I'm getting ahead of myself; this is supposed to be me being nice. There'll be plenty of time for complaining later.


Davros was good pretty much across the board. Julian Bleach did very well at apeing the crazy cripple's established style, and there were a number of nice ideas and moments around him. The conversation about the Doctor creating warriors just as Davros does was great, so too was him recognising Sarah Jane as being on Skaro at the very beginning. Davros is always at his best when calling the Doctor on his bullshit (see also: Resurrection of the Daleks), in fact the recurring theme of the last of the Time Lords getting spanked by people for his reckless behaviour (and damn but Harriet Jones had an excellent point about him last episode, just before she caught the crappy end of a Dalek ray-gun) is one of the few parts of the new show that actually suggests these people know what they're doing. Of course, Davros might have had more impact if... wait, no, bad Squid, this is supposed to be the complimentary section.


Actually I'm done (aside from the small point that I'd forgotten how attractive Gwen Cooper is as long as she isn't smiling, screaming, or cheating on her boyfriend and expecting us to feel sorry for her). We now enter the far larger part of this post in which we dissect the reasons why last night's episode was so very disappointing in so many ways.

Let's start with the cliffhanger, shall we? I'll try and dispense with it as quickly as RTD did, which is no small feat, since it was so unbelievably thrown away.

The big problem, of course, was the Doctor. When I say "thrown away", I mean on two different levels. There's the obvious one, of course, which is the fact that the "redirect it to the hand" idea is so totally imbecilic that it makes a mockery of the idea that there was any danger at all (to think people have been worried all week that we might see the end of Tennant's era) and ties into the long-running problem New Who has with cliffhangers, i.e. that they are inevitably idiotically resolved within moments with "solutions" somewhere along the lines of "let's run in a new direction" or "car windows: not that hard to break". The tying up of a cliffhanger is supposed to invoke a sense of relief at a bullet dodged, not of feeling cheated. Of course, feeling cheated is very much a RTD hallmark, and we'll return to this later.

The other thing that was tossed away, of course, was one of the Doctor's regeneration. Is he the Eleventh Doctor, now? Or, more accurately, I guess, does that mean there can now only be twelve Doctors instead of thirteen? I mean, he had to use up all that regeneration energy in order to recover from being shot (it's oddly a shame Jack blew the offending pepper-pot up, since it would have been far cooler for it to return to the mothership to tell all his mates about how it was the one who ran into the Oncoming Storm and then did for him) so I guess so. That's a pretty major thing, irrespective of the fact that when and if we get to the end of the Doctor's lifespan the writers will surely get around it one way or another, and to have it hand-waved away (with typical speed-is-better-than-conviction Tennant bluster) so that we can get on with all the running and explosions managed to completely trivialised what happened (and yes, I'm happy with complaining about trivialisation in a Saturday evening family entertainment show, since I'm apparently expected to feel bad when some family I never saw before gets subjected to "maximum exterminate". What does that even mean?).

Bonus ruin-tension points go to Miss Smith escaping certain death purely because Mickey and Jackie turn up just in time to scythe the Daleks down with their improbably-sized hand-cannons (which Mickey later kisses, a moment so mind-boggling stupid my brain refuses to accept it exists, let alone occurs in a show some people are convinced deserves BAFTAs).

I mean, let's stop and think about this for one moment, which, let's face it, is exactly what RTD scripts are calibrated to avoid [2]. Mickey and Jackie materialise at the exact right moment to save Sarah Jane. Why? Have they been watching her all this time? How? Why her, given that entire fucking human race is being blown to crap? Mickey met her once, for God's sake; and Jackie not at all.

Ah, Jackie. Jackie, who spent the first season as terminally unfunny comic relief? Whose best moment to date (which was also the only moment of Love & Monsters that didn't make me want to vomit out my internal organs) was realising that she's essentially useless? Now she's a goddamn interdimensional freedom fighter? Hefting some kind of one-woman plasma Howitzer that takes out Dalek's like they're one hit-point ninjas about to take on Bruce Lee?

We'll get to the Daleks in a minute, let's keep being mean about Jackie for now. The extraordinary, logic-busting decision to retool her as a planet-hopping bad-ass stems from exactly the same misguided premise as the idea that said globe-sliding mo-fo will show up at the last minute to keep an investigative journalist from getting her innards poached. It's a problem we might as well refer to as the Davies Fallacy; and it's been remarked upon by a lot of people a lot of times in a lot of places; the Big Cheese seems convinced you can make characters important to us as viewers by telling us we should find them important. The fans might be relieved Sarah Jane has been saved, but in the middle of a planetary invasion she's very small potatoes. Christ, the man spent two seasons telling us Rose was the bestest companion ever, but never gave us any reason why (and a lot of reasons why not, the snivelling whiny self-absorbed bitch). The idea was just constantly repeated in the hope we'd swallow it: it was TV characterisation by propaganda. He's gone down a similar road with Donna, all and sundry are desperate to convince her that she's important, but there's no reason to believe it other than by force of repetition. The return of Mickey and Jackie is an extension of this, we're supposed to care they've come back to kick some alien-Nazi backside, but there's no effort put into making us give a damn, they just come back, and in an amazingly implausible way to boot.

RTD is kind enough to explain his reasoning behind all this at the end of the episode. This is about "family". So much about it, apparently, that they end up having to use the TARDIS to move the Earth (one of those moments that I can't exactly refute, who knows what a Type 40 can do, but I still think is fucking stupid, and this is my blog so shut up) purely as an excuse for an alien technology-based group hug. I didn't watch Confidential last night, but I'd be surprised if no-one said something along the lines of "Making this episode was like a family reunion, in a way". Dr B described it as ludicrously expensive fan-fiction, and I can see what she means. Fan-fiction seems (and I acknowledge I'm hardly an expert) to be entirely based around putting together as many characters from the past together to join forces; frequently with an obvious Mary-Sue for company (and given how much time RTD has spent having other characters convince her she's special and worthy, I think Donna could probably qualify), without any thought given to whether or not it's a good idea. I've mentioned how useless Martha was over the last two episodes (run away, fail to use key, that's it), but aside from calling the Doctor last week, Sarah Jane was pretty much pointless, too. So was Jack, frankly, though at least he let himself get exterminated and tried to get something going: Gwen and Ianto spent most of the episode sat on their time-frozen arses. Rose didn't really do much to help, either. It was fairly obvious there was a danger squeezing so many characters into the story would lead to no-one being well-served, and that was exactly what ended up happening.

In fact, the only reason Rose seemed to be there at all was for the scene at Bad Wolf Bay, another moment with YOU SHOULD FEEL SOMETHING NOW flashing over it in giant neon letters (seriously, the Bad Wolf overload at the end of Turn Left was more subtle, and that re-wrote the fucking TARDIS). I've covered how the whole idea makes no damn sense whatsoever, and to be honest the whole back-up Doctor stuff seemed borderline creepy, all we're supposed to care about is that Rose gets to live her life with David Tennant's clone (who may be a lot less interesting to Rose now that he can't take her to any point in time and space).

All of this is compounded by the sheer weight of nonsense and bull-shit required to even get to the point where Rose can wander off into the sunset with her consolation prize. Why has Rose come back to the alternative world? I mean, given how desperate she was and is to get back to the Doctor, why wouldn't she stay? Time to slip in some nonsense techno-babble from Donna to justify why she can't: let's hope no-one remembers Mickey got to stay on our Earth all of two minutes earlier. Doctor-Donna will have to have her memory erased because there's too much Time-Lord for her human parts to cope with; but the cheap knock-off Doctor has all the memories of his double, and apparently he's going to be fine (or if not, the end of Rose's story is a lot less happy than it appeared). It wouldn't be a difficult fix, probably, but it's just completely blown aside in favour of the Next Big Emotional Scene. Everything gets ignored, or pathetically explained away with meaningless crap, just so we can lurch from crisis to tearjerker to crisis again. In fact, one can't escape the impression that RTD starts with a list of emotions he wants the viewer to experience, then moves on to the most cynical methods he can think of to get us there [3], and finally begrudgingly slaps together some feeble non-explanations to sort of link them all together.

Whilst we're on the subject of contradiction, let's get back to the Daleks. Again, and I seem to be saying this a lot these days, there are two parts to this. There's the contradiction in the episode itself. Why have the Daleks rebelled against Davros again? He managed to make the Imperial Daleks fanatically loyal (and deeply fashionable into the bargain), what went wrong this time? Plus, if Dalek Caan got so disgusted with the damage his fellow fascists had unleashed upon the universe, was rescuing Davros and helping rebuild the Dalek empire a particularly good move? Why betray him at the eleventh hour [4] when he could just not have helped at all?

But there's a more long-term contradiction with the Daleks, too, and it's the flip-side of the "she's important because I say so!" phenomenon. Every time they appear we're repeatedly told they're the Harrods of evil (though I'm pretty sure that Harrods is the Harrods of evil), the most hideous-est of the hideous. Sarah Jane almost lapses into catalepsy when she hears their broadcast [5], but as Miles (who I quote a lot these days) points out, she's only met them twice, first on Exxilon, where they couldn't even get their guns working properly, and then on Skaro, where they were still first-generation, with none of the new cool stuff, like shields and flying. But we know they're scary, wait, scratch that, we've been constantly told that they're scary, so we're supposed to buy into her terror (I'm perfectly happy with Jack bricking it, of course, since the Daleks have managed to kill him for longer than anyone else has).

The trouble is, of course, that the Daleks are so built-up as the greatest threat to life, the all-conquering invincible interstellar bastards, that it's difficult at the best of times to plausibly defeat them. The first Dalek we met in this latest iteration of the show killed itself. In Manhattan the Daleks were only stopped when their own slaves rebelled against them (and even then that only worked because the Daleks were dumb enough to give said slaves weapons that could overcome their own defenses), and those two stories combined featured all of five Daleks, one of whom ended up walking around in a suit and spatz. "The bigger they are, the more ludicrous the method for beating them" seems to be almost axiomatic in science-fiction and fantasy, and this is hardly helped by the fact that apparently slapping together gigantic Dalek empires is a piece of piss these days. Easy to assemble, impossible to beat, Davros must be so proud; apparently to the point where he can grow them from the cells of his own body. I wondered what the point of that was, only to find out last night that it means they can conveniently all be instantly destroyed with a flick of a switch. Sounds like the sort of thing an evil super-genius might have planned for, you'd think, but you'd be wrong.

All of this combines to form the reason why this episode, why most RTD episodes, and why the show in general is so problematic and frustrating. Stories don't tend to a conclusion, they teleport to one. The situation gets worse, and worse, and worse and then OH MY GOD THE DOCTOR DOES IT AGAIN WE'RE ALL HAPPY HOORAY! I'm starting to feel like Kathy Bates in Misery, shouting at the audience for cheering when the Rocketeer dives out the car, even though we know he went of the cliff. It's almost the same thing here; you can't get any satisfaction from resolutions that come so completely out of left field and which make no sense upon even the most casual of inspections.

Well, that was longer than I intended (I was going to actually write something important this afternoon). Perhaps none of this will apply once Moffat takes over (I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing what he does with the show). I hope so, I'm getting tired of seeing the same old shit every year, and watching the same idiots fall for it.

Update: I can't believe I forgot to point out that in Turn Left the universe explodes due to what is presumably the reality bomb, even though the Earth doesn't get stolen to allow it to get powered.

[1] Did mention that my right bracket button is missing, too? This is particularly bad for someone as aside-happy as I am. "Happy" was hard too.

[2] An immediate corollary being that his dedicated sycophants refuse to recognise "thinking about what's happening" as a valid practice whilst an episode is airing. To them it apparently ruins the fun if they have to stop and raise their eyebrows. Sometimes the show is likened to a roller-coaster ride, something that manipulates the emotions to the extent that higher brain functions recede. This, of course, misses the point that genuinely good TV should satisfy both. In fact, it even manages to miss the point about roller-coasters, too, which is that when odd one of those things part of what makes it work is the fear of falling, which actually makes some fucking sense. There's a reason why I called this idiocy a "drunken kebab"; the act of paying your hard-earned cash in order to consume ragged strips of meat that have been reheated every night since the Berlin wall came down requires the same dedication to shouting down your cortex as does managing to enjoy a season finale of Doctor Who.

[3] While we're on the subject of cynical manipulation, and for that matter being cheated, it was bad enough in Season 2 that we were repeatedly told that Rose was going to die, only for "going to die" to mean "listed as dead by the media". This time we get told that Donna is going to die, only for "die" to mean "get amnesia", which counts as death for "a version" of Donna. It's the same old hammered-in build-up followed by rug-pull squirm-out. What makes it worse, of course, is that I think I genuinely would have felt something watching Donna get wiped and returned to Earth (the Doctor's goodbye was fairly well done) if we hadn't been promised something more for the entire damn season. Lawrence Mile's has been bitching once more about how arc plots are a bad idea, but he's missing the point. The problem isn't having a story that lasts a year, the problem is
RTD pulled off a season-long bait-and-switch. Again.

[4] I note that I'm running out of different ways of saying "last minute". I used to think the cavalry ending was overused by B5, but this is ridiculous. Three sudden appearances of rescuers with
uber-guns taking out Daleks in the same two-parter? Admittedly Jack was a fraction too late with his teleport, but the reception is still there. That teleport, by the way, was using a device that can carry at least three people, meaning leaving his team-mates in the place being used to call the Doctor was pretty selfish, although that takes a back seat to the alternating number guff that is supposed to explain why that damn machine only ever works at the end of the season. He had to know it was changing between 4 and 9? There are 90 possible combinations, how long would it take to check through them? For that matter, how does a bastardised Sontaran teleport system help with a Time Agent device from the far future? Like I said; choose emotion to be invoked, manipulate it by a given event, hope to squeeze rationale into the cracks.

[5] Do they have a
Dalek in the fleet whose job it is to just keep saying "EXTERMINATE!" into the radio? Man, it must suck to be that one.